Shore Catfishing Gear
July 30, 2014
The Brits know shore catfishing like Americans know tailgating at football games. Given millennia of shore experience over us Yanks, it's no wonder English anglers have refined bank-bound systems. There, a form of competitive angling called "match" fishing pairs advanced bank tactics with amazingly efficient gear.
Among certain groups of American anglers — particularly carp and catfish fans in urban Chicago, Milwaukee, and other big cities — Euro-style shore gear has become more common in recent years. The stuff isn't easy to find in retail stores, but that's changing. Online businesses, such as bigcarptackle.com, are helping level the landscape, offering amazing bank-side gear.
Beyond the amazing functionality of English shore gear, I like the terminology. An outing is a "session." A good spot to cast your bait is a "swim." Rod holders are known as "pods." A tackle box is a "session bag." A lot of this stuff is more or less recognizable, even though it's evolved on a slightly different plane than items such as our common sand spike.
Fourteen years emigrated from his native England, Lee Young has access to fancy American boats and vast fisheries, including the Great Lakes. Yet, the competitive angler casts from shore as much as ever, logging dozens of sessions on the banks of the Fox River and other waters near his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Captain of Team USA's international carp fishing team, Young also is a catfish fan. A session for him involves more than propping up a few forked sticks and kicking back. He sets up a strategic short layout, each item serving a specific function — comfort, convenience, safety, and fishability.
Getting gear from your truck to the bank or beach is priority one. Some anglers have the luxury of pulling up to the spot and dropping the tailgate. But most of the time, we need something to haul our gear, and that requires a human-driven trailer, such as Berkley's new Fishing Carts.
Among a host of handy you-hauls, Berkley's jumbo size cart is capable of transporting up to 200 pounds. It's got tubes for eight rod-reel combos; a handy shelf to rig tackle, and a beverage holder. The cart folds up and fits in the trunk of your car. The jumbo version runs about $250, while three smaller sizes tote lesser volumes of gear.
An alternative is Angler's Fish-N-Mate. Built for surf or pier duty, the aluminum-frame Mate is ultra-durable and capable of moving mountains of catfish equipment. It totes eight rods, has room for a 48- to 72-ounce cooler plus a second smaller cooler, a tackle box, folding chairs, and an umbrella.
Chairs and Bivvies
Young believes the key to effective shore-fishing often starts and ends with comfort. "Many of the best shore fishing areas feature uneven surfaces, including riprap, gravel, or eroding banks," he says. "When you're selecting a chair, you want one with adjustable legs, something that offers a stable, comfortable, and safe platform." While standard folding camp chairs offer comfort and portability, few have individual telescoping legs for level seating on rough banks.
Granted, a good fishing chair such as the Nash Indulgence Low-Line or Trakkar RLX Transformer Chair costs over $100, but the comfort they offer borders on luxurious. Many of these chairs also recline and fold down, allowing for occasional power naps between bites. Another English category, bedchairs are made for overnight excursions or the hardcore catman who lives out of a van down by the river.
To guard yourself and your gear from the elements, British-style "bivvies" resemble tents, except they can be fully opened on one end, providing total visibility of the water and your rods. Other options, such as the BFS X2 Eco Shelter, offer three-sided protection from wind and rain, while leaving the entire front panel open and exposed. Prices for bivvies run from $50 to over $1,000, depending on features, fabrics and functionality. Numerous accessories such as bivvy mats, tables, and "brollies" (umbrellas) also are available.
Quality "pods" maximize your shore-fishing experience. Most rod pods consist of an adjustable base and T-bars, which support a pair of opposing, matching horizontal support bars and "rests" for two to four rods. Often, pods are adjusted so rods sit horizontally and parallel to the water. In wind or waves, pods can also be adjusted butt down/tip up or vice versa so the tips on rods are slightly submerged to keep wind from billowing the line and disturbing your bait sets. Fine economical options such as the NGT Session Pod, NGT Day Pod, and BFS Single Top Pod will run you about $50, each clutching three rods at once. As price goes up, pods begin to feature built-in bite alarms, which clip to your line and signal the lightest strike.
Another option is single tripod-style holders, such as the BFS Quick Stand or BFS Single Top Pod. Both use one tripod as a simple rod rest, or purchase a pair for a rod-pod effect. Prior to using rod pods, I found that a pair of inexpensive telescoping rod spikes, such Eagle Claw Extendable Rod Holders or Berkley Aluminum Rod Holders, allowed for quick adjustment, although a pair of these only holds one rod at a time. For larger, hard-pulling cats, a more secure means of clutching rods becomes vital. Different "sand spike" options work here, including products from Eagle Claw, Berkley, and HT Enterprises. For use with self-setting circle hooks, holders that tightly grip the rod handle are essential.
In Europe, volumes have been written on the topic of bite indicators. These little line-clutching devices remain critical components to effective shore-fishing, particularly when cats bite lightly, at night, or in big winds when visually detecting takes is difficult. While many American anglers opt for simple fixes, such as a bell affixed to the rod tip, these bargain-basement devices are nowhere near as sensitive as English-style indicators.
According to Young, detectors are divided into hangers and swingers. Hangers clip lightly to the line with the strike indicator hanging below, often from a chain. When the indicator rises or drops, it may be time to set the hook. As you fight the fish, the indicator slides easily between rod guides, and won't disrupt the battle, while other styles simply detach when you pick up the rod. Swinging indicators are often more expensive, but are also more sensitive to subtle bites.
Some electronic indicators also include a wireless remote and sensor that plays an alarm when fish bite. A good set of hanging indicators won't cost you more than about $10, although as more features and electronics enter the equation, prices can jump past $100. Excellent starter indicators from NGT, Fox, and Gardner are available via bigcarptackle.com.
Tackle Bags & Bait Stations
One of the coolest, most practical items that's emerged from English shore sessions is the bait-and-tackle station. Essentially a tackle box and table rolled into one, these integrated systems hold hooks, sinkers, floats, and other components, while also offering a large flat surface that allows for rigging and handy access to often used items such as a pliers, hook file, clippers, and more.
Some inclusive systems, such as the Nash Box Logic Tackle Station, act like a portable tackle cabinet, complete with upright table legs, tackle drawers, and a large flat work station. To this system and others, additional side tables can be added for extra space. Others such as the Nash TT Rig Station even include a side "tank" for submerging baits in attractants or testing bait buoyancy. Various plain tackle-and-rigging tables such as the Fox Session Table and Nash H-Gun Bivvy Table offer space for preparing cutbait or rigging up. These Euro-based systems can retail anywhere from $50 to over $120.
On the domestic front, Plano's Fishouflage series tackle bags are awesome for cat gear. They sport eye-catching "fish camouflage" with plenty of interior storage and zippered compartments for a load of paraphernalia. (I'm crossing my fingers we'll see a catfish pattern soon.)
For housing livebait, Frabill's new aerated 6-gallon Aqua-Life Bait Station is a good choice. And for keeping baitfish kicking in the lake or river at your feet, the Frabill Floating Bait Quarters is a folding basket-style container with models up to 130 gallons — perfect for housing mega suckers, small carp, and other big baitfish for hours or even days at a time.
One of the most overlooked shore-fishing gear categories is for the proper and safe handling of catfish, whether you're keeping some for a fish fry or releasing large fish after a photograph. The concept of an unhooking mat is new to American catters, yet makes sense. "An unhooking mat provides a clean, smooth surface for safely unhooking and preparing catfish or other fish for a healthy release," Young says. "They also prevent fish from rolling in dirt, mud, or other debris as well as preventing flesh wounds from sharp rocks or sticks."
Young says that affordable mats run $25 to $50. "Most of these are pegged to the ground. More expensive versions double as a cradle that can be somewhat filled with water to keep fish and their gills wet. Some unhooking mats can also double as weighing sacks. Every shore angler should be using an unhooking mat."
He says that choice in landing nets is equally important. "I like long-handled, telescoping nets that extend to at least 8 feet. For landing fish along riprap and other areas where footing is difficult, a longer net keeps you safe and scoops fish from a distance." While Young uses a Beckman Husky Musky net, he opts to replace the netting with a softer mesh material, such as those used by carp specialists. Frabill's Conservation Series also offers super soft, flesh-friendly mesh with telescoping handles up to 8 feet long.
More Essentials and Luxuries
Use of bug repellent, lanterns, coolers, and other gear goes without saying. I and many other anglers have enjoyed great results with Thermacell Mosquito Repellent units, particularly on steamy, still nights when we would have otherwise had to bathe in DEET or don a bug net (no fun in either case).
Don't leave home without a good weigh scale. I like Eagle Claw's Digital Scale for fish up to 50 pounds, plus an old Chatillon hanging scale in the event a 90-plus pounder happens along.
We could also discuss lights, rain gear, and bedchair pillows shaped like catfish. But instead, I'll leave you with something I consider cool. Among Euro anglers, a "bait boat" is somewhat ordinary, but here it's perhaps slightly impractical for most shore sessions. Clip your rig and line to the boat, steer it to the spot via remote control, hit a button on the remote and it's bombs-away. At bigcarptackle.com you can get into the Cadillac version, a Viper MK3 Pro Bait Boat, for $1,155. Or try the starter model, a $300 homemade jalopy from some guy on ebay named Slippery Sam (caveat emptor).
If you're serious about shore-fishing, you'll enjoy the advantages of the gear concepted and perfected by our friends across the big pond. Check reliable American retailers, such as bigcarptackle.com, newworldcarp.com, and bankfishingsystems.com. Or try the manufacturer-direct route, contacting any of the top makers of English-style equipment, including Nash Tackle, Trakkar, Gardner Tackle, NGT, Korda, and Fox.
Or, take a trip to the English countryside. Prop up a bivvy, brolly, and a bedchair, plus a couple rod pods. Enjoy at least a few sessions on a productive catfish swim.